Lakers unveil their championship banner, then barely beat lowly Rockets

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LOS ANGELES-CA-MAY 12, 2021:Unveiling of the Lakers championship banner at Staples Center.
The Lakers unveiled their 2020 NBA championship banner before their 124-122 win over the Houston Rockets at Staples Center on Wednesday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

There’s no way they could’ve known how perfect their temporary championship banner would end up being.

Long before limited fans were allowed inside the building to celebrate the Lakers’ 2019-20 championship, the organization announced they’d wait to unveil the real golden banner to commemorate their last title.

Its placeholder read “Stay tuned, Lakers family.”

And wouldn’t you know it, even though Lakers fans saw the official banner Wednesday before their regular-season home finale against the Houston Rockets, everyone is still definitely waiting.

Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell dunks against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.
Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell dunks against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

For months, any hope of possibly adding another championship banner this year rested on the patience of the believers, everything centered on the hope that not only would LeBron James and Anthony Davis be back on the court — but they would be dominant once again.

But as both players spoke on the floor, helping unveil the final prize from last season’s triumph, they did so again in street clothes, another game the Lakers would have to play without their two most important players.

Like they have been so many times this year, the partial Lakers had to scrap for a win, a Kyle Kuzma layup in the final 20 seconds sealing a 124-122 win. The victory technically keeps the team alive in their quest to become the No.6 seed and avoid the NBA’s play-in tournament.

Talen Horton-Tucker scored 23 and had 10 assists and Andre Drummond had 20 points and 10 rebounds, with Wesley Matthews getting a game-sealing steal against the 16-win Rockets. Kuzma had 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

James saw his status for Wednesday’s game with the lowly Rockets tumble from “questionable” to “out” in a matter of hours. And Davis, who played more than 40 minutes in each of the Lakers last two wins, wasn’t available because of a sore groin muscle — an injury he suffered Tuesday.

Lakers star LeBron James places his hand on the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Lakers star LeBron James places his hand on the Larry O'Brien Trophy during the team's NBA championship banner unveiling a Staples Center on Wednesday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The team also didn’t have point guards Alex Caruso (sore foot) and Dennis Schroder (COVID-19 protocols). But the news on James seems the most problematic.

“You know I think we’re all hopeful in that we can watch him on a 1-on-0 workout and see him moving well and be encouraged by that. And we’re all eager to see him back out there,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “But we have to be realistic that this is a high ankle sprain, and these things don’t go away quickly. So I don’t know what percent he’s gonna be at, but it’s a challenge to recover from that type of injury going into important games like we’re going into.”

Vogel said the team is “hopeful” James is able to return before the postseason or play-in tournament. But it’s also a possibility that James is not healthy enough to play against Indiana on Saturday and New Orleans on Sunday to wrap the regular season.

“I think it’s possible,” Vogel said in regards to James’ first game back coming in the play-in tournament. “But we’re hopeful he’s able to play before that. But we’re evaluating this day to day, with how his ankle is responding to the rehab work. But we’re hopeful that he’s able to play before the play-in game.”

James, Davis and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss all participated in pregame ceremony to unveil the 2019-20 banner. Highlights from the previous titles played on the video board while around 4,000 fans watched a spotlight dart to the banner for the corresponding championship.

After a video package reliving last year’s title, Buss and James both spoke.

“We said we would not unveil this banner until we had some of you guys in the seats, so this is your guys’ moment. We had our ring night. We wanted you guys there but we wanted to make sure we saved the banner for y’all,” James said. “So, we love you guys and the road to back-to-back starts in about a week. So, let’s get going.”

Lakers forward Anthony Davis speaks during the Lakers championship banner unveiling ceremony.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis speaks during the Lakers championship banner unveiling ceremony at Staples Center before Wednesday's game. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

That journey almost certainly will begin sooner than later, the Lakers probably headed to the play-in tournament unless Dallas or Portland does them a big favor in the final few days.

We don’t know who they’ll play. We don’t know when they’ll compete. And we don’t know if James will be back and be effective.

Before, the fans could’ve looked to the rafters for the truth — a giant banner that said “Stay tuned.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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